School's Out: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
This post is about what I consider to be one way of being the change I want to see. I think of it as a small public education intervention that I do almost every day.
I'm an affectionate person, almost everyone I've dated or been friends with commenting on that. But whenever I am out in public with my fiancée, I become self-consciously affectionate. Not because I'm concerned about what nasty thoughts people might think about seeing such queerness, but because of what they fail to think. When we are walking through malls, having dinner, or strolling down the street, I am fastidious about holding Shannon's hand. As we make our way through crowded aisles, I link my arm through hers. Even though the table might be cluttered, I touch her hand from across it. If I don't, people give us separate checks once the meal is done without asking. They say, "Oh, what a nice friend that you're treating her—I wish I had friends like that!" At a retail check out, Shannon says, "I'm buying this for my girlfriend." And some men feel totally comfortable hitting on one or both of us as we walk by the pub patio (okay, attempting to be clearly in a relationship with another woman doesn't usually help this last one).
The way I've described myself here makes me sound like a nervous person who clings to her partner. I'm actually very much the opposite. Unfortunately for Shannon, when she has a schedule to stick to, I tend to talk to every shopkeeper, ask questions anywhere I think I might learn something, and generally make way too many friends (if such a thing is even possible). But I hate feeling erased! It's not even because I'm wedded to a particular sexual identity—I think of myself as a person who is politically queer and is into people—but my mind is just boggled by the assumptions that people can make with impunity. I'm disturbed by the implication that my relationship is so un-valued that it doesn't even cross some people's mind unless I am wearing the "gay-pron" my mum gave me (pictured, left) and Shannon is wearing a "This is what a lesbian looks like" t-shirt.
In fact, even my best attempts at making minoritized forms of relationship, sexuality, and family more visible have still failed epically. We were once in a store, arms linked, shopping for bath accessories for our new house. I was wearing boots Shannon had just given me for my 25th birthday. These kicks were sick. The store clerks complimented me and I looked to Shannon and said, "My lovely fiancée bought them for my birthday." They asked how much the boots cost and Shannon supplied the answer. We talked a little bit more, and as we walked away from the cash desk, one of the clerks said "Wow, well, your boyfriend sure must have great taste!"
So I began to question whether my personal mission to publicly educate, using my personal life as a tool of visible difference, was making a small difference, or whether people were so culturally prepared not to see me that I might as well save the energy it takes to be hyper-aware of my public presentation. Of course I don't only rely on a politics of visibility (there would be lots of problems with that strategy) in order to try to shape my world. I've fairly well lost the ability to make small talk and I launch right into political topics with the many people I chat up and learn from.
But these aren't the only issues with my little educational strategy. I struggle with accepting that this kind of personal/political practice is something I feel driven to do, but I can't necessarily expect it from others or legitimately feel frustrated to observe so little of it in the places I've been.
I, a person who is perhaps unusually attuned to looking for queerness, have only ever seen one or two apparently same-gender couples holding hands in the three years I've been in this city—even on campus, which is a pretty queer place compared to much of the rest of Kingston. But that doesn't mean I haven't seen queerness. The many apparently hetero hand-holding couples may have been comprised of trans people, bisexual people, pansexual people, autosexual people, asexual people, Two-spirit people, genderqueer people, or people who otherwise identified as queer politically or sexually or whatever. Or they could have been friends. Allies aren't always wearing a pin. Also, sidewalks are narrow for hand-holding purposes, so there may have been lots of polyamorous relationships I missed. Some people's political strategy is one of privacy. Some couples may not like hand holding, or they may have had their hands full of groceries, or they were in the middle of a fight. And of course, all queers don't have to travel in packs. Sometimes we go out alone. Sometimes we're single. Sometimes we can't be out for our own safety, etc.
Anyway, one thing I've found really illuminating is reading stuff like Queer Enough, a zine that collects stories of queer people in different gender relationships (which I think I've mentioned before). Reading the diversity of people's experience that lies beneath hegemonic representations of normative sexuality gives me hope. Anybody else have places you turn to, or things you do when you need to shake the feeling of isolation in a world with little compunction about treating you as a "special case" afterthought every day?
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